CIAC OKs plan for winter season

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By Kyle Brennan, Citizen’s News

Some sports allowed to play, others limited to conditioning

Naugatuck’s Lauryn Ramaeho (5) dribbles up the court in front of Oxford’s Madison Sastram (3) during a game in December 2019 at Naugatuck High School. The CIAC Board of Control has approved a plan for high school winter sports that allows some sports to begin competitions on Feb. 8. -REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN ARCHIVE

At long last, high school sports are returning — well, sort of returning.

The CIAC announced Jan. 14 that its Board of Control approved a plan for most high school winter sports that sanctioned the start of practices Jan. 19 and competitions Feb. 8.

Boys and girls basketball, boys swimming, ice hockey and gymnastics got the OK to eventually have full practices and competitions. Indoor track, wrestling, competitive cheerleading and competitive dance will only be allowed to engage in small-group conditioning and non-contact skill work for the foreseeable future.

The season will be scheduled similarly to the fall season. Teams will be allowed to have 12 in-season competitions with geographical considerations, and the postseason window will be March 15-28. As was the case in the fall, there will be no traditional state tournaments and the postseason tournaments will be an extension of the regular-season divisions.

All dates and schedules, once they are released, will be subject to change based on COVID-19 data.

“We’re still playing in a COVID pandemic, so we have to anticipate that there will be interruptions in the schedule,” CIAC Executive Director Glenn Lungarini said during a Zoom conference Jan. 14.

Basketball and hockey players must wear masks during all games, and athletes and coaches in all sports must wear masks when on the sidelines. Mask breaks will be scheduled in basketball and hockey, similarly to the way media timeouts are built in at the college and professional levels.

In basketball, a one-minute mask break will take place at the first stoppage of play after the four-minute mark of each quarter. Coaches will not be allowed to provide instruction during mask breaks. Additionally, according to the CIAC’s published plan, “a game official has discretion to stop the game at any point during the contest to address mask concerns,” and all participants should have multiple masks available.

Swimmers won’t have to wear masks in the pool, but the CIAC is encouraging teams to participate in virtual meets this winter. The Naugatuck girls swam an entirely virtual season in the fall, while the Woodland girls competed in a mix of in-person and virtual meets.

The CIAC noted in its plan that its goal is to safely provide opportunities for sports while recognizing that maintaining in-person learning is the primary focus of schools. The CIAC’s decisions aligned with Jan. 8 recommendations from the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

“The CIAC’s rationale for these recommendations is based on its belief that maintaining a safe level of in-person instruction is the primary goal of our member schools and association,” the plan reads. “While prioritizing considerations that will sustain conditions for in-person learning, the CIAC strongly affirms that the value of structured physical activity is widely supported in research.”

The plan’s announcement Jan. 14 left only a few days for local schools to prepare for the start of the season.

Woodland athletic director Chris Decker said “we are a go” to begin team activities Jan. 19, although the Hawks will “focus on conditioning at first” before progressing to full practices.

Naugatuck athletic director Brian Mariano noted that logistical challenges prevented him from being “100% confident” that the Greyhounds would also begin Jan. 19, but he was hopeful that any delay would not be long.

“We will make every attempt to start (Jan. 19), but it’s going to be tough,” Mariano noted. “Lots of moving pieces to get into place beforehand.”

Schedules have not been determined or announced. Some school districts have already opted to delay or cancel their winter sports seasons, and others are reviewing their options. It is expected that the Naugatuck Valley League will align itself in a similar three-division format based on geography that it used in the fall.

“We want to support our school districts and have them return to education-based athletics in a timeframe that’s appropriate for them,” Lungarini said.

Wrestling, competitive cheerleading and competitive dance are classified by the Connecticut DPH and the National Federation of State High School Associations as high-risk sports, which compelled the CIAC to leave those sports out of the current plan.

While indoor track is categorized as a moderate-risk sport, the lack of suitable facilities throughout the state was the major factor in the CIAC’s decision to not condone a competitive season. Most indoor track meets include multiple teams — sometimes dozens — and that prohibitive factor led the CIAC to sanction conditioning practices only.

The CIAC’s plan noted that “indoor/outdoor dual meets will be considered for March” if public health and weather conditions allow them to happen.

The alternative spring football season that the CIAC had floated as a possibility when it canceled traditional football in the fall was also nixed. The original proposal would have started conditioning Feb. 22 with weekly games from mid-March to mid-April.

Three factors went into the CIAC’s decision to deal a final blow to football. First, the NFHS recently recommended that any games played in the spring result in a reduction of games played in the fall due to concussion concerns. Second, the delay in the winter sports season left no time for football to squeeze in between winter and spring sports. Finally, football is considered a high-risk sport, and those will not be sanctioned until at least the end of March.

Lungarini noted that 38% of football players and 31% of wrestlers play a spring sport, so rescheduling either sport for the spring season “would create quite a bit of conflict.”

The Republican-American contributed to this report.